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Options and Alternates: An Indispensable Tool

Options and Alternates

We live in an age of customization. Personalization and options are huge selling points for just about anything, from smartphones to cars to fashion. The same holds true for building design. Savvy architects use options as a valuable tool with which to ensure their success—which ultimately depends on client satisfaction.

The term options is used in software like Autodesk Revit to denote the ability to scroll through different design schemes or varying extents of construction with the click of the mouse. For purposes of documentation and construction of these options, they are referred to as alternates.

When developing a project’s program, there is a fine balance to be struck between the available budget and the types of facilities and amenities desired by the client. Design options can be prepared to help facilitate the decision-making process, whether contingent on the availability of funds, community approval or a public referendum. They are accompanied by construction cost estimates and operational proformas to convey the pros and cons of integration. With the continued development of user-friendly, collaborative software like Autodesk Revit, the architect and her/his team can easily prepare for the addition or subtraction of such alternative schemes.

For example, let’s assume a community desires a new recreation center. City Council knows they have enough funding to build the main reception and restroom facilities, assembly areas, community rooms and fitness center; however, plans for a large gymnasium appear to be outside their budgetary limit. By developing a base bid set of drawings, the design team establishes the amount of work that is within the established budget and guaranteed for construction. Beyond this, the design team can provide a full set of additional drawings that incorporate additional (additive) or fewer (deductive) alternate scopes or building footprints varying in square footage.

Additionally, plans can be incorporated to remodel or reconfigure space in the future, when additional funding becomes available or the owner decides to expand or manipulate the floor plan. A portion of a project initially designed as an office space could become an open lounge space or assembly area upon the future removal of interior walls. The key to this is detailing precisely how this change is connected to or subtracted from the base bid of work. Efficient and coordinated detailing limits the extent of demolition or loss of material that occurs when an alternate is exercised. The extent of these additions or deductions is project-specific and can range from an installing an alternative mechanical unit or lighting package to adding thousands of square feet.

Simplifying the alternates process is no easy task, but a coordinated effort by the architect and consultant team can lead to a much more concise set of drawings to guide the contractor through construction. Revit and AutoCad assist the team in easily turning these alternates on and off. Through the use of 3D views or renderings to communicate the difference between options, architects can better illustrate the difference in appearance or performance of a building to their clients. This alone may influence the client’s decision to incorporate an option into a given project’s scope—especially when it concerns interior/exterior finishes or material options. The difference between a basic building with a limited material palette and one that utilizes unique materials and a range of colors and innovative signage can make a world of difference in the final product, the user experience, and ultimately the popularity and success of a building.

The availability of options is a wonderful selling point for the modern architect. For the client who is unsure of the costs associated with their ideal building, wants to convey a variety of choices and options to the community, or plans to build in phases, options and alternates are a tool she/he cannot afford to overlook.

Posted on April 23, 2014 at 10:42am

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